Ross Douthat looks beyond or behind the foreground of performances and tactics, and explains the failure of Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign as a rejection of its “Bushism”:
[I]n purely ideological terms, what primary voters were rejecting when they rejected him was the political synthesis of George W. Bush.
In domestic politics, that synthesis had four pillars: a sincere social conservatism rooted in a personal narrative of faith; a center-hugging “compassionate conservatism” on issues related to poverty and education; the pursuit of comprehensive immigration reform as a means to win Latinos for the G.O.P.; and large across-the-board tax cuts to placate the party’s donors and supply-side wing.
In foreign policy, Bushism began with the promise of restraint but ultimately came to mean hawkishness shot through with Wilsonian idealism, a vision of a crusading America whose interests and values were perfectly aligned.
Douthat goes on to assert that the alternatives offered by Rubio’s more successful competitors – specifically “Trump’s populist, illiberal Jacksonianism” and “Cruz’s hard-edge social and economic conservatism” – may represent the (emphasis in the original) “desire for a new synthesis,” not an authentic new synthesis. Unlike Bushism or “compassionate conservatism” in its moment, neither seems likely, in Douthat’s opinion, to “win the median voter.”
The further question concerns the American Republican, or conservative, or rightwing concepts – separately or all together – in relation to the evident crisis of the Republican Party. The coalition that appears to be deconstructing itself before all of our eyes – conservative intelligentsia and base disgusted at their mirror reflections, each other – is not just the Bush coalition, but the Reagan coalition. The question before us is whether the American Right currently possesses a coherent theory of positive national governance at all, and whether, in the absence of a perceived existential enemy, it can produce even the minimum necessary integration of the American state.